As a postpartum doula, I meet all different kinds of families.
Each family that has called a Postpartum Doula has invited them into their home as an extra set of loving hands and a brain to pick about what to expect from their newborn. In most cases, parents have read nearly a dozen books to prepare for their newborn. As a Postpartum Doula, I want to know what these books are. Have the parents read certain books that may lead them to believe that their amazing baby will be sleeping through the night by 2 weeks? Oh no! You mean I have to break the news? In reality, that is not going to happen.
Although some of these books have a good concept, a good outline, but to promise parents a “schedule” for their newborn is an outright lie. Not only is it a lie, but it can be very harmful to the newborn and the parents.
Why is scheduling your newborn harmful? FOOD!
They need food! Every 2-3 hours in the first few weeks of life, they need food. If you hear a baby has slept 5-6 solid hours at 4 days old you can almost guarantee that baby will not be gaining an ideal amount of weight. (Which is about 1oz a day by the AAP guidelines.) If a baby is exclusively breastfed it is nearly impossible to know how much the baby is getting at each feed. Just like our appetites change, a newborn’s appetite change as well. Sometimes they just want a milk shake, and sometimes they want the whole shebang! Salad, appetizer, steak, potato. How about dessert too? Another reason why newborns should not be put on a schedule too soon is that often times they are left to cry it out which can be physically and emotionally damaging to an infant. Newborns need to be soothed, fed, loved, touched. Of course, routine is a great thing. Babies and children thrive on routine. Newborns do not.
Every baby is different and needs to be nurtured as such. This might be the second baby in the family, and the first baby slept through the night at two weeks on its own. We need to remind parents that each infant had different needs. Some have colic, some don’t. Some like to be swaddled, some don’t. Some are soothed by the swing, some aren’t.
Why is scheduling too soon harmful to parents?
Disappointment, failures, loss of control. Most parents want to start a schedule with an infant in the first weeks because they thrive on control. Not control in a bad way, just having the mindset that things need to go a certain way. Have you ever spent a day or night with a newborn? They are the real control freaks! Infants are similar to control freaks that are completely out of control!
Have you noticed how, whether it’s your own infant or an infant you’re working with, once you get them figured out they change? It is the same with eating and sleeping. Some nights baby will wake up on his/her own to eat. Other nights, those first few weeks, you may have to wake your baby to eat. Parents begin to feel disappointed and feel as though they have failed if their baby does not eat, sleep, and play like the “book said”. If you think about it, they really are running the show and if we slow down enough to listen to them we will be able to soothe them quicker, feed them when they need it, let them rest when it is time. That is another reason why scheduling a baby too soon is harmful to parents! They don’t get the opportunity to learn their baby’s cues.
Babies show us cues for hunger, discomfort, tiredness, and over stimulation.
By hitting the whole “contented and wise baby by 12 weeks” books too hard, too dedicated, too “by the book” parents are missing out on not only cues the baby was born with, but also on precious times to bond with the baby.
Certain routine concepts are great guidelines but you can’t schedule a newborn. Have you ever tried to put an infant to sleep when they weren’t tired or better yet, wake an infant because they have slept over the allotted 2 hour nap time? It doesn’t work!
How can we as Postpartum Doulas best support our mamas and papas?
We need to encourage them. We need to remind them this too shall pass, you will sleep again. Also, schedules and routines are great! But, there is a time and place and it is not in the first weeks of the newborn’s life. Put the clock away, put the books away. Your baby is a book all on its own with so much more interesting things to say. Read your baby. The first several weeks of the newborn/parent relationship is like a dance. The infant has the lead, even though they don’t know this dance yet either. Learn this waltz, tango, or cha-cha together. Then, when baby is ready, do what works for your family. By the time you have learned the dance you will have learned exactly what your baby needs and how to fit those needs into a schedule that works for everyone.
Presented by: Amanda Marshall, CPD, CLE
Copyright CAPPA 2015